This week, Republicans in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives decided the state should keep the word "homosexuality" in its indecency and obscenity laws. So that's a thing that happened.

Title 18, Section 5903 of the Pennsylvania criminal code makes it a crime to give or sell material containing "sexual conduct" to people under 18. And "sexual conduct" means

acts of masturbation, homosexuality, sexual intercourse, sexual bestiality or physical contact with a person's clothed or unclothed genitals, pubic area, buttocks or, if such person be a female, breast.

Yeah, it's always a good thing when homosexuality appears in the same sentence as bestiality. (And we don't want to go into a whole rabbit hole about "showing a person under 18 a movie with a boob-touching in it is a crime," but, well, we just did.)

After discovering Pennsylvania's disgusting and archaic obscenity law made it illegal for LGBTQ kids to have materials about LGBTQ people, this session, Democrats introduced bills into both chambers of the General Assembly — House Bill 1279 and Senate Bill 609, respectively — to remove it. And you already know what happened next!


In a memo accompanying HB 1279, state Rep. Mike Zabel wrote,

Did you know that one of our current state laws still prohibits the distribution to minors of materials such as books, pictures, and videos which depict "acts of homosexuality," classifying homosexuality as obscene? Recently, one of the municipalities I represent, Upper Darby Township, repealed a similar decades old ordinance and, upon further review, it was discovered that Pennsylvania has such a statute still on the books.

Under existing law, "acts of homosexuality" are classified as "obscene" in Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses), Section 5903 (Obscene and Other Sexual Materials and Performances). My legislation would rectify this injustice by amending this section to remove the term "homosexuality" from the state obscenity clause.

The fact that bigoted, offensive language is still listed in our state's law is unacceptable. Please join me in bringing Pennsylvania into the 21st century by supporting this commonsense measure that will help promote equality and inclusion within Pennsylvania.

This week, another opportunity to repeal this disgusting law presented itself when the House considered House Bill 231, a human trafficking bill, and Rep. Zabel offered an amendment to stop making gayness a crime.

Every single Democrat in the House voted to remove homosexuality from the criminal code. Every Republican voted to keep it in.

The crazy scope of this law can't be overstated — in Pennsylvania, it is a crime for a library to let a gay kid borrow a book about growing up as a gay kid. Because the word homosexuality isn't elaborated upon or defined anywhere, it would arguably be illegal to give a child a photo of his same-sex parents kissing.
That. Is. Insane.

This week's vote is a clear attempt to stifle LGBTQ content, making it inherently dirty, different from straight/cis content, and even illegal. When LGBTQ kids can't access materials about the things they are dealing with, they just feel more alone, isolated, and depressed. Books can literally save lives. And it is beyond abhorrent, though entirely expected, that Republicans would put their own bigotry above the lives of their children.

For their part, Rep. Zabel and his Democratic colleagues have made it clear that they are going to keep fighting the good fight.

Rep. Brian Sims, Pennsylvania's first openly gay state legislator and a current candidate for lieutenant governor, also took to Twitter with outrage at his Republican colleagues' "rampant homophobia" and "cowardice."

The only thing this is, is hatred. If a criminal case were actually brought against a same-sex couple for something like displaying a kissing picture where children can see it, I can't imagine a court holding up such a conviction. But sure, keep unconstitutional bullshit in our laws just to make a point about what a bigoted piece of shit you are.

This isn't the only part of Pennsylvania's laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ community. According to the Movement Advancement Project,

  • Pennsylvania doesn't have adoption or foster care nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ parents.
  • The state's family-leave laws don't include LGBTQ-inclusive definitions of spouse, partner, children, or parents.
  • There is no nondiscrimination policy for state employees.
  • The state's broad religious exemption law allows businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
  • Pennsylvania's hate crimes law doesn't cover LGBTQ people.
  • PA's anti-bullying laws don't cover anti-LGBTQ bullying, and
  • There aren't protections for LGBTQ children in the child welfare system.

Shit like this is a stark reminder that, even in 2021, homophobia, transphobia, and assorted anti-LGBTQ bigotry are still all too common — both in people's hearts and in our laws.

Let's do better.

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Jamie Lynn Crofts
Jamie Lynn Crofts is sick of your bullshit. When she’s not wrangling cats, she’s probably writing about nerdy legal stuff, rocking out at karaoke, or tweeting about god knows what. Jamie would kindly like to remind everyone that it’s perfectly legal to tell Bob Murray to eat shit.
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